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Mammalian pyruvate dehydrogenase complex (PDC) is a key multi-enzyme assembly that is responsible for glucose homeostasis maintenance and conversion of pyruvate into acetyl-CoA. It comprises a central pentagonal dodecahedral core consisting of two subunit types (E2 and E3BP) to which peripheral enzymes (E1 and E3) bind tightly but non-covalently. Currently, there are two conflicting models of PDC (E2+E3BP) core organisation: the 'addition' model (60+12) and the 'substitution' model (48+12). Here we present the first ever low-resolution structures of human recombinant full-length PDC core (rE2/E3BP), truncated PDC core (tE2/E3BP) and native bovine heart PDC core (bE2/E3BP) obtained by small-angle X-ray scattering and small-angle neutron scattering. These structures, corroborated by negative-stain and cryo electron microscopy data, clearly reveal open pentagonal core faces, favouring the 'substitution' model of core organisation. The native and recombinant core structures are all similar to the truncated bacterial E2 core crystal structure obtained previously. Cryo-electron microscopy reconstructions of rE2/E3BP and rE2/E3BP:E3 directly confirm that the core has open pentagonal faces, agree with scattering-derived models and show density extending outwards from their surfaces, which is much more structurally ordered in the presence of E3. Additionally, analytical ultracentrifugation characterisation of rE2/E3BP, rE2 (full-length recombinant E2-only) and tE2/E3BP supports the substitution model. Superimposition of the small-angle neutron scattering tE2/E3BP and truncated bacterial E2 crystal structures demonstrates conservation of the overall pentagonal dodecahedral morphology, despite evolutionary diversity. In addition, unfolding studies using circular dichroism and tryptophan fluorescence spectroscopy show that the rE2/E3BP is less stable than its rE2 counterpart, indicative of a role for E3BP in core destabilisation. The architectural complexity and lower stability of the E2/E3BP core may be of benefit to mammals, where sophisticated fine-tuning is required for cores with optimal catalytic and regulatory efficiencies.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of molecular biology

Publication Date





71 - 93


Division of Molecular and Cell Biology, Faculty of Biomedical and Life Sciences, Davidson Building, University of Glasgow, Glasgow G12 8QQ, UK.


Humans, Pyruvate Dehydrogenase Complex, Protein Subunits, Cryoelectron Microscopy, Sequence Alignment, Binding Sites, Amino Acid Sequence, Protein Conformation, Molecular Sequence Data